The start of football season is one of my favorite times of the year. It's the one time where every fan is most optimistic about their team. For fans like me, as soon as the previous season ends, I'm consumed with how my team can become better for the following year. I spend the first part of the offseason wondering if this is the year the Chargers finally sign a good free agent and that the Raiders or Broncos don’t. After the initial free agent period, my attention turns to the NFL draft. I find the draft to be one of the fascinating things that happen in sports. We spend months on end listening to analysts break down every aspect of a 20-year-olds life expecting that person to be the savior of a franchise. Every sports website publishes numerous mock drafts which you inevitably read everyone so you're prepared for who your team will select. By the time, the draft happens you start to believe that you're just as smart as Bill Belichek and know all the right moves for your team. Sometimes you agree with your team’s picks and other times you're shaking your head and cursing to anyone who will listen that the GM is a moron when they draft a person you've never heard of. Inevitably it all ends with the thought, “I could have done a better job.” You get this invested because you want your team to be the best and hopefully win a Super Bowl, or at least that's what you tell yourself. You're invested this much because there's one team that you care about above all others - your fantasy team.
I started playing fantasy football in college. It started out as a fun way for my roommates and I to have some friendly competition and trash talk one another. I was fairly new to the concept and was a little skeptical at first because in my heart I'm not a fantasy person. I'm probably one of the few people on this planet who has never seen Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or even Harry Potter, despite my sister’s constant disapproval. As much as I like to deal in the real world, I was instantly hooked. Around this time the real team I rooted for, the San Diego Chargers were a dumpster fire, reliably terrible. I don't know where I finished in our league the first year, but it gave me something to root for while the Chargers were losing game after game making it very difficult to enjoy football season. Even though my team was a loser, the weeks I won my fantasy matchup I felt like a winner. I finally had a way to test out my skills to see if I was smarter than my friends and more importantly the idiot GM who was running my actual team into the ground. I found something that really intrigued me and kept my competitive juices flowing. I knew this would be a thing I would be doing for the foreseeable future.
Over the next couple of years, I treated fantasy football as a supplement to watching the actual games. It was just something fun to do on the side, however, at some unknown point I started to take it very seriously. There are a lot of decisions that go into maintaining your fantasy team. What to name your team? I've settled on Smoking Crabtrees after switching every year. How am I going to draft? Do I get a running back or a wide receiver in the first round? Can I wait until round 6 to get a quarterback? I can't count how many hours of preparation I put into my team or teams rather, because who does just one league? I would be at work trying to see what players to add, sending emails with elaborate trade request, and smack-talking on the leagues message boards. It's just decisions on decisions for 6 months and I love every moment of it.
As fantasy football exploded into a billion dollar industry, my fascination and dedication grew with it. Instead of going to ESPN to read about what happened on Sunday, I went there to check players’ fantasy stats. ESPN and Yahoo added entire sections to their websites dedicated solely to fantasy football. Now they not only talk about how a team is doing during the year, there are countless articles and lists of which player are projected to score a certain amount of points. Who should you play? Who should you sit? Smartphones didn't help either; it’s all there, right at your fingertips. Every year it gets bigger and bigger with higher stakes. In my mind, it has become an unofficial second job. At first it was $25 dollar a league, now it's $300. Yes I know that's insane and I might have a problem, but it is what it is. This means too much to me now. I'm constantly texting friends for their opinions on what to do. I FaceTime my friend Leah, every Sunday morning before the game starts to go over our lineups to make sure we're playing the right players, it’s become a standing meeting on both our calendars. I’m reading every article written and listening to every podcast by Matthew Berry, whom I'm so jealous of because he turned this obsession to a full-time job and makes a ton of money doing it. Instead of watching Sunday Countdown on ESPN, I'm watching Fantasy Focus on ESPN2 to get the latest injury updates and who might be this week’s sleeper. I believe I spend more time doing this than I do any other thing besides my actual job and even that's debatable.
I knew this hobby had turned into an obsession when I began actively rooting against the Chargers for one of my fantasy players. I tell myself it's ok if we give up a touchdown as long as it's to one of my players. At this point, I've turned into someone I've never thought I'd become. I've become a fantasy addict, it's no longer just football, I've joined fantasy basketball leagues, I've even tried a fantasy league for television!. You know you’re an addict when you have to make rules for yourself, the only root for your fantasy players against your real team if they're up by two scores. No more than two fantasy teams a season because then you don't know what you're rooting for and who wants to live like that, football is stressful enough already. Yet, the most important rule is NO RAIDERS on my team. I like to think that the day that happens I'm quitting fantasy altogether. Luckily, I've been strong enough to not break this rule. I've already come to the conclusion that fantasy football will be apart my viewing experience so I need to make it as enjoyable as possible. I now understand how so-called “nerds” get wrapped up into whatever fantasy they choose. It's nice to be a part of something different than reality. My fantasy just happens to be about football and I'm fine with that.
Now if only I can win my league one of these years, I'll truly be happy.